Are you new to racing and don’t have a ton of experience to draw from? No worries, step one to reading a race is as simple as using Google maps! Whether a cyclist or triathlete, know the course and all of its nuances is the first step in achieving success on race day. For the bike racer facing a new event and course, the first step is to ask your team mates who have done the event for their insight (like we did with the fabled Battenkill road race). First hand knowledge of what you can expect will help you be better prepared. Will you need different gearing for the route (as I did for Berkshire)? How are the road surfaces? Are your lightweight race wheels advisable? If a crit or circuit race, how many corners? Are any greater than 90 degrees? And how far is the finish line from the last corner? What if you do not know anyone who has done the race or it is a new one on the calendar – then what? Here is where not only studying what the promoter has to say on the course (but keep in mind one person’s idea of ‘rolling hills’ might not be your own), but pulling up the course yourself and looking over the route and it elevation profile. When do the key climbs occur and how long (and steep) are they? Where are the feed zones (if any)? Is their neutral support should you flat or have a mechanical? If it is an event requiring an over-night stay, then this is the perfect opportunity to either drive or ride the course to see it first hand before the racing action begins.
On May 6th, I rode the inaugural Berkshire Classic, which happened to be a qualifying race for the new UCI age group World Championships (so you know this would not be an easy Sunday spin). Before the race, I took the time to study the route and elevation profile (actually printed and laminated it so I could have it with me on race day). It was clear that there would be 2 key points in the first 40mi that would decide the make up of the front group. The first real climb came at mile 18 and was 3mi long and included a few sections near 10% elevation. The next climb came at mile 31 and lasted just over 4 miles, with a nice kick up in pitch over the last 1/2mi. I was less concerned with the final climb at mile 75, as it was close to the finish and I seriously doubted I would be in contact with the leaders at that point. Going into the first 2 climbs I knew I would have to be in the front 20 or so riders to be able to have a good chance of maintaining contact with the leaders. Even though I briefly lost contact on each of these hills, I was close enough to chase back on.
So, even if you don’t have years of racing experience, you can help yourself on race day by knowing the course intimately. Try to figure out where the attacks will likely occur, which corners might require extra attention, and should it come down to a sprint, just where to begin your jump. Remember, in bike racing many times the smartest rider beats the strongest one!